Last year, the Hawks dipped from 60 wins to 48 for a variety of reasons, including missing Demarre Carroll, Kyle Korver was actually guarded, and the weird dynamic at the then-crowded point guard position. From my seat, Jeff Teague grew tired of looking over his shoulder and getting yanked from games, and I’m sure Coach Bud grew tired of Teague’s patented “thousand-yard stare games” when he just didn’t bring it. That relationship got so funky and stale, Teague threw the team under the bus for not reporting the torn patella he played with all year.

So… job one in the off-season was to unload Teague, which the Hawks did right before the draft in a three-team deal that landed Carroll-clone, Taurean Prince. The Hawks also had a huge decision to make at center. Do you re-sign Al Horford for mega money, or bring Dwight Howard back home to Atlanta, for less money and fewer years.

The Hawks chose Dwight.

The Celtics chose Al.

Only time will tell who was right.

Hopefully, they meet in the playoffs so we get a definitive answer. The other major off-season move was Kent Bazemore agreeing to take slightly less to stay with the team with which he first blossomed. Backing up Dennis Schroder at point guard will be free agent additions: super-sub Jarrett Jack and Malcolm Delaney, who is coming off an elite season in the Euroleague.

Even without Teague, The Hawks will be plenty deep at the one when Jack gets healthy.

I’ve got three keys to the Hawks winning 50+ games, finishing top 4 in the East, and perhaps winning a playoff series or two (provided we don’t match up with Cleveland. Smh)

1) Howard is Happy: If Dwight Howard isn’t happy, like the past few seasons getting iced out by Kobe Bryant and James Harden, he sulks, pouts, misses games, and generally goes through the motions. If Dwight is happy, like his Orlando days, he rebounds, leaves the floor to block shots, runs the floor, and flashes that 1000-watt smile.

So how do you keep Dwight happy? Simple. Run the offense through him. Let him pat the ball and either make a move or kick out to an open shooter. Dennis has to go into every game with the thought of getting Dwight touches and shots.

2) Schroder Wins Most Improved: When Mike Budenholzer traded Teague, he made the decision to hitch his wagon to Schroder, who must perform at a consistently high level. Otherwise, Coach Bud will have some explaining to do. I think he made the right call. Yes, Dennis is out of control at times and his jumper needs a shot doctor, but he gets to the cup at will, makes plays for others, and he’s nadsy as hell. Schroder is my preseason pick for Most Improved Player.

3) Prince is Ready: With Korver and Thabo getting older, the Hawks need a wing to step up. That wing needs to be 12th overall pick, Taurean Prince. I’m a big fan. He was ready at Baylor. He was ready at the summer league. And he’s looked ready in the preseason. He’s long and bouncy, he can score at all three levels (3, mid range, rim), and his instincts and IQ are evident when he defends.

In the end, this year will look at lot like last year.

Our Hawks will hover around 50 wins and go home as soon as they play the Cavs. Smh…


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